After twenty minutes of mostly bad basketball at the Bryce Jordan Center, the best thing that could be said for Penn State was that the half was over but the game was very much still up for grabs.
Playing their first full contest without senior point guard Tim Frazier, who was lost for the season with an Achilles injury, the Nittany Lions looked incredibly sloppy. The offense was ugly on the eyes to watch, and the statistics were even uglier to read. Pat Chambers’ squad only managed 16 first half points, and freshman forward Brandon Taylor was the only player with more than two. The Nittany Lions committed 5 turnovers and shot 16.1% from the field.
Facing an undefeated Bucknell team with a few impressive victories early on, conventional wisdom would suggest that the game would have been out of reach after such a poor first half for the Nittany Lions. In many instances, that might be true, but not yesterday. Good defense, including 12 forced turnovers, kept the score close as the home team headed for the locker room only down by six.
The second half was a different story from the onset. Taylor continued his hot shooting from three-point range, and D.J. Newbill, running the offense without Frazier, became more aggressive. With just under 11 minutes remaining, Jermaine Marshall banked a desperation shot from behind the arc to put the Nittany Lions in the lead 37-36. Bucknell would tie the game twice more, but another jumper by Taylor put the Nittany Lions in front for good with nine minutes to play.
The lead would reach 7 points, but the Bison would not go away quietly. With nine seconds remaining, Marshall made one of two free throws to put the Nittany Lions up 60-57. After getting the ball beyond half court and calling timeout, the Bison would have a chance to send the game to overtime with three seconds remaining. A contested three-point attempt from the corner by Cameron Ayers fell short.
After looking like they might not reach forty points early on, the Nittany Lions outscored the Bison 44-35 in the second half to cap off the comeback. Following the game, Chambers gave credit to his players for not letting several missed shots negatively impact their defense.
“We practice everyday for not making shots. They didn’t let missing shots and turnovers affect their effort. We’re headed in the right direction,” said Chambers.
Frazier’s injury will force some players into roles they were necessarily expecting to fill, challenging but also potentially speeding up their growth and maturity. That was the case with Taylor yesterday who received his first start of the season and made the most of it, looking confident on the way to 16 points.
“We know from practice what he [Taylor] is capable of. He has a lot of confidence and was ready to shoot,” explained Chambers.
Despite not playing their best game yesterday, Chambers knows Bucknell well from his days at Boston University and called them a definite tournament team after the game.
The second half against Akron combined with the first half yesterday are an indication of how difficult things may be without Frazier at times as competition gets tougher, but the Nittany Lions showed poise and resiliency en route to earning their third victory of the season.
“These kids believe in each other and have faith in each other. All around us, everyone wanted to mail it in, and we didn’t feel that way. We felt like we could compete,” said Chambers.